Conference Report: Indigenous Perspectives at the World Conference on Ecological Restoration

November 10th, 2023

The 10th World Conference on Ecological Restoration (SER2023), the largest international ecological restoration event ever held in Australia, took place from the 26th to the 30th of September in Darwin, Northern Territory. The conference, organised by the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) under the theme “Nature and people as one: celebrating restoration and connection,” brought together over 1,000 people registered from 80 countries to discuss the global ecological restoration agenda.

As the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration progresses with ambitious targets to scale up restoration actions by 2030, the conference highlighted the critical importance of Indigenous knowledge and cultural relations in planning, negotiating, and implementing interventions. The event placed special emphasis on including Indigenous speakers, participants, and sessions. Indigenous plenary speakers, such as Kia Dowell from Western Australia and Lucy Mulenkei from Kenya, delivered critical messages about the challenges of enabling meaningful Indigenous engagement with restoration practices. Throughout the event, Yarning circles were also important spaces of reflections. Facilitated by Indigenous facilitators, participants were guided to engage in conversations and reflections about a wide range of experiences.

The delegates of SER2023 issued an urgent call to action during the UN Decade on Restoration. They committed to “recognising and securing the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and underrepresented people to their land, territories, knowledge, and resources, while elevating their leadership and roles as agents of change at all stages of restoration.” This was one of the key statements made by the attendees and members of the society toward global efforts to achieve restoration targets.

Indigenous-led Restoration Supply Chains

During SER2023, the workshop session “Co-designing Indigenous-led Supply Chains for Just Restoration Actions” promoted discussions on how Indigenous-led organisations are reshaping the restoration economy and its benefits. Co-organised by CSIRO researchers Dr Danilo Urzedo and Dr Cathy Robinson, in collaboration with four Indigenous organisations, the session drew more than 40 participants from 30 organisations and 10 countries.

The workshop covered various experiences, including native plant material supply from the Xingu Seed Network in the Brazilian Amazon, revegetation and koala monitoring actions by the River Nations Indigenous Corporation in Queensland, multiple benefits from savanna burning in the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area, and integrated feral animal practices by the North Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance in the Northern Territory. By bringing together diverse voices, worldviews, and experiences of Indigenous practitioners and leaders, this session supported participants in reflecting on and debating transformative strategies for just restoration practices.

Terah Guymala, Senior Ranger at Warddeken Land Management, presented the operations of ranger bases in remote communities in western Arnhem Land, employing approximately 150 Indigenous rangers each year. These rangers undertake various projects, including fire management. Terah emphasised, “Land care comes from our ancestors before us. It’s crucial to consider how fire is an important management tool for humans, animals, and the land. When we use controlled burns for land management, we achieve positive results. A healthy Country means healthy people, animals, and land. That’s our goal – healthy people living on their Country.”

Speakers of the SER2023 workshop session, from left to right: Jayden Wurrkidj (Warddeken land management, Australia), João Carlos Pereira (Xingu Seed Network, Brazil), Terah Guymala (Warddeken land management, Australia) and Oreme Ikpeng (Xingu Seed Network, Brazil).

Speakers of the SER2023 workshop session, from left to right: Jayden Wurrkidj (Warddeken land management, Australia), João Carlos Pereira (Xingu Seed Network, Brazil), Terah Guymala (Warddeken land management, Australia) and Oreme Ikpeng (Xingu Seed Network, Brazil).

Oreme Ikpeng, a member of the Xingu Seed Network, discussed the native seed supply activities of 600 collectors in the Brazilian Amazon, which he has been supporting since 2009. This was Oreme’s first opportunity to travel overseas and showcase his community’s experiences. He remarked, “Representing the Ikpeng people and the seed network at an international event contributed to the dissemination of our actions and also to my personal and professional development.”

The discussions also covered ways in which Indigenous-led restoration actions help regain access to land and reconnect with Country. River Nation representatives  from Queensland, for instance, focuses on local capacity building and partnerships for biodiversity monitoring and revegetation projects.

These diverse Indigenous experiences are critical for better informing restoration strategies, embracing innovative bottom-up lessons. This is a key component of the Local Provenance project, which seeks to discuss and elaborate on how Indigenous supply systems transform restoration investments and practices. This workshop was supported by the Valuing Sustainability Future Science Platform.

Author – Danilo Urzedo